Pru had overslept. That happened now, after all those decades of jumping out of bed and scuttling out of the house twenty minutes later. Two hours it had taken her this morning, to get to the bus stop. But she was on her way. The others knew she wouldn’t miss, not without saying. Or dying! She couldn’t go on for ever but she mustn’t pass before they’d seen off the frackers. After that she could die happy.
If she saw that so-called police officer who’d grabbed her arm hard last week she’d demand an apology, better late than never. Maybe the film footage had made him reflect. Pru’s long cotton skirt felt cool around her ankles but the forecast was threatening thirty degrees by the afternoon. It was grand having all the youngsters around, though. She liked the excitement, the energy in the air.
“You’re famous,” some of them said. They called her an internet sensation. Well at ninety she didn’t mind being humoured now and then.
The sky through the dirty glass was a fierce blue already and the sheep must be longing for a haircut. There were people who wouldn’t wear wool because the shearing wasn’t natural and the animals could get hurt or distressed, but she’d only just investigated the ethics of honey after decades of assuming the bees didn’t mind, and she had some lovely jumpers that had kept her warm outside the gates last winter – too good to throw away, especially as she’d knitted most of them herself before her fingers and eyes got together to put a stop to that. She wished she’d known things long ago. It seemed unfair on the youngsters that they’d grown up with the truth nobody told people like her.
“You have the carbon footprint of a mouse,” her son Ed said at Christmas. Relative to his, that was, but she kept her lip buttoned. He knew why she came to the site most days, why she switched her energy supplier, bought her veg from the local farm, hadn’t flown for twenty years, fuelled her activities with a plant-based diet.Ed signed petitions when she sent them to him, or said he did to keep her happy. He was dead against fracking because of the films she’d tagged him in, from the US and Australia, and he loved Lancashire: the fields and hills and old villages as well as the cricket. But could she get him to use the train? “Too expensive!” he objected, with a mortgage to pay. And his idea of a good meal started life with four legs, chewing the cud – just like the cows the bus was passing now, a group of them looking hot and bothered.
Pru was a bit jealous of the women with daughters who came along at weekends now and then and took a turn at holding their mams’ placards. She couldn’t see Ed joining her there unless she dropped dead at the next bit of police manhandling and he came to identify the body.
“You know your dad would approve,” she’d told him, but he reckoned he knew better, said Tom was always law-abiding. It made her laugh! “What kind of law says you can destroy the countryside, poison the water and rattle the earth – but you can’t put your body in the way to stop them?!” Never mind the methane – more than any number of those cows could make.
Some of the husbands moaned and groaned but Tom wouldn’t have tried to stop her any more than he stopped her running the W.I. or singing Gilbert and Sullivan. Most of all he liked to see her dancing – in the house, just for him or for herself when she didn’t know he was watching. The best memories she had were of the Tower Ballroom with Tom and the only fancy dress she ever wore, with the red flounces just right for Latin.
Enid climbed on at the next stop, waved and paid without having to say where she was going. She sat next to her, lurching into her with a laugh as the bus moved off.
“Oy, steady on!” she protested to the driver on Enid’s behalf.
“I nearly bunked off today,” said Enid, fanning her face with a hand. “But I didn’t want to miss the party.”
“Too right,” said Pru.
“My neighbour says we’re fighting a losing battle,” said Enid, wearily.
“Then get your neighbour to come along and help us win,” said Pru.
Enid told her she was going away to Scarborough with her sister next week and asked Pru whether she ever had holiday.
“Not for years,” said Pru, thinking that it might be hard, anyway, even if Ed asked her to tag along, to abandon ship. In case that was when it sank.
Time to press the red button. As they made their way down the road towards the site, arms and placards waved. It looked like quite a crowd for ten forty but then lots of them would have slept overnight at the farm.
Pru heard her name. It was nice to be welcome. As the bus rolled on past the gates it honked. So did the van behind, and from the next car a bare arm held up a thumb.
They’d only just arrived when Mia introduced Pru to a young woman who’d come alone and seemed shy. It was embarrassing being called a legend and having to say she just kept showing up. And she didn’t catch the name.
“Gem,” the girl repeated. Not a girl really but fragile-looking. She was older than Mia, who taught at a primary school – in Manchester, if Pru remembered rightly. “It’s good to be here at last.”
The music was loud today, its rhythm thudding fast, but Pru wasn’t going to complain about that. Gem looked all around her at the fence, with its banners tied on, its rainbow colours threaded through.
“Is it what you expected?”
“It’s bigger – the site, but the protest too. More creative, more fun.” She grimaced. “More police.”
“Most of them are human,” Pru told her, “with notable exceptions. My arm’s got quite a bruise.” She showed her. “Excuse the batwings!”
Gem winced. “The police should be serving the community, not proving free security for the frackers.”
“You tell them!” said Pru, but this Gem didn’t seem the type to cope with conflict. She had the look of someone who’d been on the receiving end of trouble.
“I hear you’re a great-nana?”
That had to be repeated after the bus had gone past. Nearly all the traffic seemed to be honking its support today. It gave Pru heart in spite of everything.
“I am. The youngest is eighteen months.”
When Gem asked to see a picture, her eagerness told Pru she was a mother herself. They both smiled at “Skye with an e.”
“That’s why you’re here.”
Gem nodded and her smile wavered.
“Has anyone offered you food? There’ll be vegan hot dogs in the shed. You look like you could do with some. And there’s always tea.” Pru glanced towards the urn and mugs.
“I have water, thanks.”
“Good thinking.” She looked through the fence at the site that used to be calm and green. “They’re getting ready. But for now we have the numbers to stop them.” She turned back to the young people dancing in spite of the heat. “I’m a bit creaky for lorry surfing myself.” She remembered the child, Skye with an e. “No need to get arrested though. No one will judge you here. We’re just glad when people come.”
Someone took the microphone and the music was chopped. The speeches were going to start. Pru tapped the road with her stick. It was obvious Gem had a story she wasn’t going to tell anyone; she reminded Pru of herself before she met Tom: a bit awkward, prickly at times but soft as putty underneath. Straight in the old sense of the word.
It was hot already.
James wasn’t the only partner who hadn’t quite adjusted to his four-day-week. It always made Mondays a little strange but this morning he’d received one apology for contacting him on Friday and another for not checking with him. In both cases he said, “No problem”, because he hadn’t worked out yet whether he objected to the office butting in on his day off or enjoyed being needed in spite of it. James felt lucky. Fifty-five might be old enough to apply for a house in the retirement village near the golf course, but it was young enough to keep a respectable handicap – and, in the case of Evan, a semi-retired solicitor he sometimes outclassed, a girlfriend under thirty.
That lunchtime he probably wouldn’t have left the building, or eaten more than a bag of crisps, if it hadn’t been for Manda’s film, and Jacquie saying how touching it was to find it on Twitter and how impressed she was with Manda’s IT skills.
James told his PA that he avoided the whole worldwide web as much as possible, outside the context of work.
“Oh, you’ve not seen it? You should, James. Rob looks so full of life it’s hard to imagine… Three years!”
Jacquie had worked with him for twelve years and was a few years closer to sixty. She was also quite possibly closer to Manda than him. He remembered how upset she’d seemed at the funeral. In fairness to Manda he explained that he’d been told about the film, censoring the word warned.
“Just going out for lunch,” he added briskly. “I won’t be more than an hour but I might turn my phone off.”
Chapter Five will be posted on Friday 8th February at 5:30pm UK time.